So, who is the problem employee? Karen or the manager? Or is it a little bit of both. My gut is to take Karen's side, but that's probably because I'm the mother of a young child who occasionally gets ill. But, I also appreciate that business is about making money and the manager (who I should have named, but I didn't) is effective at that.
My point in all this? Employee relations is not easy. Let's look at all the things going this Employee Relations Manager has to deal with. (Many of which I have gleefully stolen from the comments.)
1. High performing manager who stinks at her employee communication skills. Ask a Manager says:
I'd ask the manager: "Have you talked to Karen about your expectations for things she needs to take care of during unexpected absences?" If the answer is no, well, that's the first step. Don't discipline someone for not meeting an expectation you never laid out.
So what about expectations? We all have them. Karen and her manager aren't aligned on those expectations. Wally says:
The point about clear expectations is dead on. Clear expectations are both stated and enforced. Merely having a policy does not constitute clear expectations.
2. A recruiting tool (we're family friendly!) that isn't enforced in all departments. It may be in some, but not in others. As EvilRJ said:
But if Marleycorp's policy is clear (and only your own death or illness is acceptable) then maybe a written warning is a good reminder to start planning the move to Scandinavia.
And Tim Lacy says:
The company policy is flawed. No parent should be restricted for taking a sick day for his/her kid. Nothing should be done to/with Karen.
But what if an employee has 6 children who are prone to strep throat, ear infections and mysterious middle of the night vomiting? Should the company allow that person 10x the number of days off they give to other people? How do you develop a policy that will truly balance business needs and employee needs? And how does the ER rep work within flawed policies? Because reality is, that's your job. Yes, we try to do what is "right" but we also have to do what is "within policy."
3. A high potential new employee who is upset and likely already looking for a new job.
4. ER person stuck in the middle of a political nightmare. If you do the "right" thing for Karen and her co-workers and try to get the manager some training to help her communicate with her employees; or to help her learn to monitor end results rather than face time; or to not require people to work and take vacation days at the same time; you may end up being on the receiving end of some discipline yourself. After all, this manager has won the praise of Sr. Management. She gets the job done.
5. Trying to explain how high productivity but low morale and high turnover is going to eventually lead to low productivity and high costs may fall on deaf ears.
6. Must sort out who is exaggerating more--Karen or her manager? In this sort of situation, I assume that both are either leaving out important details or embellishing others. As Lea said:
As I'd also ask the manager what she said when she talked to Karen on the day in question, because while Karen felt yelled at, there's no guarantee that that's what the manager did.
That's another problem--feelings. Karen felt yelled at. It's doubtful the manager felt she yelled. Which person is right? Both of them. Perception is the person's reality. Sometimes ER has to help people get their perceptions in line with reality.
I could write more, but I need to go to bed. Employee relations is complicated and not all about handing people tissues and firing bad employees. It's about blending of managers and employees and people and policies and striking that magical spot where what is good for the employee is good for the business.
I'll definitely put up some more scenarios in a week or so. I found everyone's comments so fascinating.